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Sapphira: Life or Death

I love reading about the early church. I love reading about their boldness and their love and their commitment to the spreading of the gospel and their commitment to one another. 

I love verses like Acts 2:46-47: “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

And I love this account in Acts 4:32-35“Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” 

I. Love. That. I love that the church was so in awe of Jesus, in awe of such great grace and in awe of the Spirit of God, who dwelled in them and unified them and led them and gave them pure hearts, generous hearts, and hearts overflowing with the love of God. 

What could keep us from that kind of fullness of life? 

At the end of Acts 4 there, we read of a man named Joseph, called Barnabas (son of encouragement) by the apostles, who sold a field he owned and laid the money from that sale at the feet of the apostles. 


“But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife's knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles' feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it.  Acts 5:1-5 (italics added) 

Ugh. This is so heavy. I feel such a grief when I read Peter’s question to Ananias, “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit..?” 

Sapphira arrives mere hours later, unaware of what transpired earlier, and is seemingly given the opportunity to answer honestly, possibly to humble herself and to repent. She stands alone to answer for her involvement-really, this is an examination of her heart. 

“And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.” Acts 5:8-11

“How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord?” 

This passage from the book of James comes to mind: “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” James 3:14-17

There is such a clear distinction in this passage, just as in the story of Ananias and Sapphira following such a beautiful description of the church. Peter does not hesitate to call their choice demonic. Whatever their motive, whatever their intention, it’s clear that it was completely devoid of and in direct opposition to the Holy Spirit. 

How did they get here?

Take a look at what is recorded twice in this passage in Acts: 

 “And great fear came upon all who heard of it.

“And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.”

We may not be able to tell how exactly they arrived here, how it is that their hearts were so turned from the Holy Spirit and filled by Satan, but from the reaction of the church, we can gather that a fear of the Lord was missing. 

Where was their reverence? Their humility? Their recognition of just who God is and of His character? Of His power? Of the Spirit’s ability to discern at the very least whether or not they were lying and moreover, their hearts behind the lie? 

What of His holiness? And what of their holiness? Their purity before the Lord? 

Living by the Spirit is imperative. We cannot harden our hearts, resisting and quenching the Spirit, until we eventually are no longer sensitive to the moving, stirring and convicting of Holy Spirit. That is dangerous. That is where the enemy has free rein to wreak havoc; that is where disorder and every vile practice begins. 

That is how we give dominion of our hearts to the one who is not King. That is how we forsake life abundant and mistakenly choose death instead. 

For the church to be “of one heart and soul”, the full number of us, we will need to be in complete submission and surrender to the Lord and to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Our flesh has no room-and honestly, why would we want to give our flesh mastery over us? 

What the early church had was not natural; it was supernatural. The unity and the favor and the great grace and the generosity and the salvations day after day were not produced by human effort. And that’s the point. 

Friend, we have a choice to make each and every day. Every hour. Every moment. Will we surrender to the Holy Spirit? Will we choose life over death? Will we choose transformation over stagnation? 

Will we allow the enemy a foothold? Will we allow ourselves to become vulnerable to the lies and deceit that grieves the Spirit and sows disorder and impurity? 

Let the story of Ananias and Sapphira instill anew a healthy fear of the Lord and a wholehearted desire to be yielded completely to the Holy Spirit. Let the accounts of the early church inspire a wonder and a desire in you. And let the divide between life according to the flesh and life according to the Spirit be sharp, a line distinct and uncrossable. 

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